Just like loud and sparkling fireworks, the bright colors and illuminated images in East Contra Costa County's first multi-sensory room mesmerized Michael Brown Jr.
The 12-year-old, who is deaf, blind and quadriplegic, spent about 45 minutes in the stimulating yet calming environment inside downtown Antioch's Intuitive Healing Center. Michael rolled on the ground, smiling and giggling often.
He was especially alert when he heard other special needs children also enjoying the room. His mother, Allison Gentz, works in Antioch as a social worker and drove him there Sunday from their home near Modesto for the grand opening.
"The room is just awesome," she said. "I have seen so many kids respond to that sensory stuff because it is self-soothing and promotes self-regulation."
The new multi-sensory room is designed to alleviate the stresses of the outside world and features a multi-sensory vector mobile unit, which has a bubble machine that can be turned on and off and changes colors and LED fiber optic tubing attached that also alternates colors with the push of a button.
"It allows the children to control their own environment," said Special Haven board member Neta Robinson. "It gives them a sense of empowerment."
Created by a nonprofit organization called Special Haven, the room is the longtime dream of one of the center's owners, Jude Byrne, who is from England where these sensory environments are common.
The room also has a collection of multi-textured toys and a mini trampoline. There is a comfortable place to lie down and watch images of fish float across the wall.
"The outside world is closed out and it is an oasis that they can explore and touch," said Special Haven board member Christine Schwab.
Bethel Island resident Lisa Heckendorn volunteers there and was touched after seeing a child who was nonverbal talk to her mother for the first time.
"This is going to be amazing. I can't imagine the things that parents will find out about their children here," she said.
Likewise, Robinson saw how a child with special needs responded to the room so well that she played with her typically developing sibling for the first time.
"It is so they can interact with other kids and not be isolated," Robinson said. "It gives parents the ability to have that interaction with them. That is something monumental."
As Special Haven obtains more donations, it plans to add bubble tubing from the floor to the ceiling, fiber optics in the floor and a waterbed with speakers underneath it, according to board member Michael Worley. At that time, one side of the room will be painted white and the other black and will glow.
"We have a very large community of special needs kids that we want to serve," Worley said.
Intuitive Healing Center offers the parents of children with special needs half-price discounts on massages and spa services. The multi-sensory room is open during regular hours of operation for free, but donations are appreciated.
It is at 213 G St., Antioch and is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays.
For more information, go to www.intuitivehealingcenter.net or call 925-777-9995.